Endgames are fun!

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
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0 | Chess Event Coverage
Chess players who like to improve their game, are always adviced by trainers not to spend too much time on openings. "Study the endgame. Your game will benefit from this for the rest of your life." But, as I always thought, and many other ambitious players with me: endgames are no fun? I must say that I started to appreciate studying the endgame some more after Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual was published, but now three books have appeared that make it even more fun.

I'd like to bring to your attention Silman's Complete Endgame Course by Jeremy Silman (Siles Press 2007, 530 p.). This book is an endgame textbook that treats all endgames, divided into categories.

I have to say that at first I was quite sceptical about Silman's Complete Endgame Course (from now SCEC). The cover speaks of 'a revolutionary book on chess endgames' and in his preface, Silman writes: "SCEC is the endgame book everyone always wanted but couldn't find." Slightly arrogant, if you ask me. (In general it's a pity when a preface isn't written by a different chess player than the writer himself. With these 'fundamental' type of books it's common practice that a colleague writes the preface and I would have liked to see somebody like John Watson or Karsten M?ɬºller have written the preface to this book. What would they think of this book?)

And when I read that Silman decided against including the ending 'mating with knight and bishop', I had to fight against a strong urge to put away the book immediately. According to Silman this endgame is quite tough and occurs very rarely in practice. He's right about that, but in my opinion every self-respecting chess player of, let's say 1800 level, should master this endgame (Silman's book is directed at players between beginner's level and master level). The ending 'queen against rook' is also not treated seperately by Silman, and indeed this ending is not a regular one in tournaments either, but appearances are deceptive. If you count all the positions in which long series of piece exchanges lead to this endgame, then every chess player once had a game in which this endgame was relevant!

SCEC's basic concept is quite unique and in a way could be called revolutionairy. What does the author do? Silman not only divides endgames by type, but also by level. In other words: he shows what players with a rating of 1300 in any case should know of the endgame, and which aspects are 'obligatory knowledge' for 1800 players.

He first treats endgames he thinks are important for beginners (level 'unrated ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú 999'): mating the sole king and preventing stalemate. Then the endgames for E class players ('1000-1199'): minor piece against queen, some basic pawn endings, opposition. Then the D class ('1200-1399'): continueing with pawn endgames, piece against pawn. Then the C class ('1400-1599') with more pawn endings, minor pieces endings and rook endings such as the Lucena and Philidor positions. Then the B class ('1600-1799'): diving deeper into the endgame, e.g. opposite-coloured bishop endings. Then the A class ('1800-1999'): difficult pawn endings, more basic rook endings, minor piece endings and queen endings. The the 'expert level' comes ('2000-2199') with the last, most difficult theoretical endings and finally the 'master level' ('2200-2399') where principles such as 'two weakness' and 'activating the king' come along. Silman ends with a chapter 'for all levels', where he mainly shows examples for shere fun.

I haven't seen this approach anywhere else and it definitely has some plusses. It's true that when studying one of the well-known textbooks (Awerbach, Ch?ɬ©ron, M?ɬºller & Lamprecht, Dvoretsky) it's very easy to get lost. You understand the basic endings but at a certain point you go astray and decide to put the book back onto its shelf, to reach for it perhaps a year later. Silman is certainly right about this one.

But the 'method Silman' has some serious flaws in my opinion. To start, he assumes a far-reaching kind of uniformity among chess players. Every 1300 player who has read his first two chapters can go through the next one, following his ideal learning process. But chess players are, like human beings, all different. And so they all learn differently. Is Silman's learning order really the only good one, I wonder. If one has a rating of 1850, but an excellent feeling for rook endings, should he wait three years to start studying them till he has the 2100 level that 'allows' him to study them?

Furthermore, it occurs a few in the book that Silman explains a certain concept that makes you think: what on earth does he want me to learn me with this? The concept is worked out at the next level, but before you're studying that, according to the book, you're two hundred points stronger. There's normally quite some time in between!

An example is the 'distant opposition'. On p. 59 Silman explains that on a board with only a white king on a1 and a black king on e8, White can always grab the distant opposition by playing 1.Ka2!. I must admit that Silman does an excellent job explaining the concept of distant opposition. But why you need it in the first place, is not explained in this section (1200-1399) and so as a 1300 player you're left with some questions. This board with just two kings is of course very relevant for the ending Kd2, pawn e2 against Ke6 (where 1?¢‚Ǩ¬¶Kd6! is the only move that draws because of the distant opposition), but this one is treated in section 1400-1599. From an educational perspective it's nonsense two treat these two elements seperately in my opinion. By the way, in this 1400-1599 section you learn that the ending Kh7, pawn h4 against Ke7 is a draw because of the move 1?¢‚Ǩ¬¶Kf7! when White is stalemated; an ending you should learn much earlier I think. So here and there I have my doubts about whether certain positions should be treated in certain level sections and, more importantly, whether it's better to treat them together.

I don't want to give the impression that I don't like the book at all. The general setup of the book is excellent. The themes are explained very well (and Silman's writing style is quite catching). There are many 'blocks of advice' spread all over the book with the basic rules, and each chapter ends with both a summary and test puzzles. What I also like very much is the fact that Silman is trying hard to show why endings can be great fun. That's why I can certainly recommend SCEC, although I personally prefer Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual. But perhaps that's because I once had the pleasure to be able to attend a Dvoretsky training session, and once you have experienced this, you never want something else.

Speaking of endings, I'd like to mention two more books shortly that have appeared recently. In my opinion they are nice additions to a 'textbook' such as Silman's.

First Van Perlo's Endgame Tactics (New in Chess 2006, 480 p.). This book was mentioned on ChessVibes before, when it had won the English Chess Federation Book of the Year Award. Later it also won Chess Cafe's best book of 2006 prize! The book is the result of thirty years of collecting, analysing and categorizing by Mr Van Perlo. The most important result is a book chuck full of endings from practice that are all very amusing to play through. Furthermore, it shows that endings are not just concepts, but that also in this phase of the game tactics are very important. Did the theme 'endings' always appear a bit dusty to you? Thanks to Van Perlo it really starts (perhaps for you for the first time?) to shine.

Finally I'd like to mention the book Endgame Virtuoso Anatoly Karpov by Tibor Karolyi & Nick Alapin (New in Chess 2007, 360 p.). Karolyi is a Hungarian trainer who worked with Peter Leko and Judit Polgar. During his carreer Karolyi made use of many practical examples of Anatoly Karpov and he extended and collected this material to create a 360 page book! What we see are endgame examples on the absolute world top level, and analysed on a very high level too. Some examples are treated on more than five pages. The book immediately starts strongly with Kalashnikov-Karpov, Zlatoust 1961, in more than eleven pages. Karpov's carreer is treated till and including his last match against Kasparov in 1990. The book is up to date too, since the examples that were also treated by Mihail Marin in the Karpov chapter in his Learn from the Legends, include Marin's analysis which are critically treated by Karolyi.

Both books are, as always with New in Chess, very nicely edited. The Dutch publisher have always used their own system for making figurine fonts and diagrams, and it just looks tiptop. Both warmly recommended.
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